A few months ago a young woman named Katrina Roi contacted Seven Days. She's an intern at "State of the Re:Union," a syndicated public-radio show and website that reports on locales around the U.S. I had heard this program on Vermont Public Radio a number of times and really enjoyed its in-depth explorations of not just the who/what/where of a place but of what makes its people tick. The soul of the community, as it were.
I also enjoyed the show's host, Al Letson, who's the executive producer, as well. He came from the poetry-slam movement and really gets delivery.
So I was excited to find out that SOTRU was coming to Vermont. Tropical Storm Irene was the impetus; Letson and crew wanted to know how Vermonters lived through, and came out of, that experience, which devastated so many small towns in our state.
The program SOTRU put together took them to Pittsfield and Bethel, and even to a quintessential Vermont town meeting. Their report contrasts those two towns and how each responded, or didn't, to post-Irene realities. If you missed the broadcast last Saturday, you can download it here. Though Vermonters have heard plenty of stories since the storm of August 28, 2011, I still strongly recommend listening to this one.
But I started out this post by introducing Katrina Roi. She was looking for additional Vermont stories. I corresponded with her and — though we gave her a number of story suggestions — I found myself waxing enthusiastic about White River Junction. The town had been hit by Irene, too, but the broader story was how the place has slowly emerged from a long post-railroad-industry slump ... through the arts.
Seven Days readers are no doubt familiar with the biweekly cartoon we publish in the print edition from a student or graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies. I told Katrina about the school, and about how it, along with the Main Street Museum, Northern Stage theater company, Two Rivers Printmaking Studio and other arty establishments, had infused WRJ with new life. Moreover, some of the students who come to CCS — like many of us — love Vermont and decide to stay, thus becoming a part of the creative-economy infrastructure.
Katrina investigated WRJ herself and, with SOTRU radio producer Laura Starecheski, ended up creating a delightful short video, cartoon style, about the town and its history, in collaboration with CCS student Sophie Goldstein. The production, titled "White River Junction: A Town at the Crossroads," can be viewed on the website. Sophie's brown-hued illustrations (see image above), have a vintage look, but the voiceovers are contemporary, including those of MSM owner David Fairbanks Ford and CCS cofounder Michelle Ollie. Check it out.